Sunday, December 16, 2012

DVD Report: The Best of Spike Jones

[post 314]

No, not the very modern film and music video director Spike Jonze, but comedy musician and television variety star Spike Jones (1911–1965). My first introduction to the loony imagination of this latter-day vaudevillian was via audio tapes in the 1970s. I could only guess what his antics looked like, but it was funny enough, and I seem to recall my partner Fred Yockers and I sometimes using it as pre-show music. It certainly got us in the mood, if not the audience. Some material made it to VHS by the 1980s, and eventually to DVD, but The Best of Spike Jones is the first remastered, fairly definitive sampling of his work. It actually came out a couple of years ago and I bought a copy right away, fully intending to write a blog post on it "next week." Well, better late than never....

So why should you care about Spike Jones? Easy, because he....
• kept alive the "crazy comedy" tradition of Olsen & Johnson (Helzapoppin'), the Ritz Brothers, and the Marx Brothers
• was very funny and innovative
• used a lot of physical gags
• bridged the gap between vaudeville and television, featuring a lot of old-timey physical comedians on his show
• worked with funny people like Doodles Weaver (uncle of Sigourney!), Eddie Kline (directed Keaton and W.C. Fields), and the banjo player and natural clown, Freddy Morgan (see below).
• was a major influence on the comedy of Ernie Kovacs, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Dr. Demento, Laugh-In, Frank Zappa, George Carlin, and Billy Crystal, as well as such current New York groups as Polygraph Lounge and The Maestrosities.... but more on them soon.

....and, most important...
• frequently used whistles, cowbells, gun shots, mouth sounds, feathers, rubber chickens, pants drops, and trapdoors

This is a 3-dvd set, with 3½ hours of material on the first two discs, and the two pilots they shot (tv tryout episodes, not aviators!) comprise disc three. You can pick it up for $25 on Amazon, and it's well worth the price. Here are just a few samples...

The self-deprecating introduction to their show:

Followed by a typically insane and fast-paced music number, which ends up involving eccentric dancing, juggling hatchets, oddball instrumentations, and the destruction of instruments (decades before The Who).

Peter James, slapping himself silly and showing some fancy chops that predate break dancing by half a lifetime:

And the rubber-faced Freddy Morgan:

There's so much more I could include, but I have Christmas shopping to do. Maybe you should just buy this one for yourself!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He is also on Netflix, but only four episodes. My husband and I have been watching them!